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"AT WHIPPS Cross we are facing what is possibly the greatest attack on people's healthcare rights that I have seen in 17 years of working there. There is a government-sponsored destruction of not only acute health care services but primary health care services as well.
They put forward the spurious argument that this is all about ensuring that people don't have to go into hospital in the first place - that they'll get treated outside of a hospital. That's fundamentally a lie. They are axing £15 million worth of primary health care at the same time as closing four wards, two theatre suites, numerous outpatient facilities and axing 400 jobs. A hatchet-man is being paid £1,200 a day to find more cuts!
So we are appealing to the wider community. This is the time we really need to organise a broad campaign, linking up with the health workers' unions nationally. We need to ensure that this New Labour government, which is openly now a government of the rich, is confronted. They're on the back foot and are clearly seen for what they are - a leaner, meaner vehicle in the interest of big business. We need to stand up and face them down."
Save our community hospitals
FOLLOWING ON from major cut-backs last year, Kennet/West Wiltshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) have announced the future closures of community hospitals in Trowbridge, Warminster, Devizes and probably Melksham and Marlborough.
Roger Davey Senior UNISON steward, Swindon & Wiltshire Health Branch (personal capacity)
Furthermore, they intend to drastically reduce the number of beds in Chippenham and also close two local maternity units in an effort to cut costs. Although management give no figures we believe this dismantling of Wiltshire's NHS will put at least 300 to 400 jobs at risk of redundancy.
As in the rest of the country, this ruthless reduction in hospital beds will mean that patients who should be cared for in hospital will now be dumped at home, over-reliant on overstretched privatised community nursing teams, friends and relatives or inappropriately placed in private nursing homes.
Moreover these patients will have to pay for treatment which is described as personal care - a definition which under this government is increasingly including what most people would consider as nursing care.
These attacks on the NHS are part of the drive towards privatisation which is reflected in the way the PCT intends to provide community care. At present, they are encouraging nurses and other medical staff to form 'social enterprises', in other words private businesses, to compete for PCT contracts. It's a move that will inevitably lead to the domination of community care by ruthless global corporations.
In response to these dire proposals we in UNISON have held meetings in all the affected hospitals and, with enthusiastic support from members, have begun a campaign of resistance across Wiltshire. However, if our campaign is ultimately to succeed and the NHS saved we need a national day of action with support given to regional industrial action.
Education bill - Labour depends on Tory support
THE GOVERNMENT'S controversial Education Bill, which aims to pull the comprehensive system to pieces, is getting its third and fourth readings in the Commons this week. As comprehensive education has been at the root of Labour education policy for many decades, this dismantling stirred up opposition even in the usually submissive ranks of New Labour backbenchers.
Some Labour MPs could join a 'rebellion', opposing the encouragement of grammar schools and demanding a ballot of parents before a local authority-run school becomes a trust school, the new 'independent' state schools.
However this limited opposition is highly unlikely to stop the bill's progress through Parliament. New Labour are quite prepared to rely on the other bosses' parties in the Commons to vote with them, especially the Tories, who saw the bill through its earlier stages.
Teachers call for action
MOST TEACHERS want to fight this Education Bill but unfortunately some of our union leaders are against discussing industrial action to oppose it.
Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham National Union of Teachers (NUT)
At a recent National Union of Teachers secretary's meeting I summed up the likely parliamentary arithmetic for the Education Bill debate, saying that it was likely that "the union will win the argument but lose the parliamentary vote."
I then asked the NUT's general secretary Steve Sinnott when the union Executive would be campaigning for the local and national industrial action that conference unanimously agreed should be considered.
Outrageously Steve Sinnott came out with the old right-wing accusations that some of us in the NUT were always "salivating over industrial action!"
Then he made absolutely clear that in his view "the campaign would be damaged by industrial action at the moment". In other words, don't frighten the MPs, keep lobbying rather than pursuing industrial action.
Of course, we have to go through the necessary steps of lobbying, leafleting etc - raising the issue to parents and our union members. But - and NUT members in schools are realistic about this - lobbying alone is unlikely to change this government.
They will need to feel under much greater pressure - and that's why industrial action is vital (especially in the absence of a mass party that can challenge them at the polls).
We must use this stage of the campaign to raise NUT members' horizons to the strike action that will be needed to defeat privatisation and the attacks on education - both nationally and in local struggles.
We have to urgently raise the question of "what next" if the Bill goes through. We have to raise the prospect of action, yes locally where required to defeat trusts, but also as a national protest in the autumn term when the Bill returns from the Lords. The teachers' unions urgently need to start canvassing support for action in schools.
What we think
Say no to nuclear power
TONY BLAIR pre-empted his own government's energy review, and announced to his big- business friends in the CBI that he intends to replace Britain's nuclear power stations with new ones.
His declaration forms part of a reversed international trend. With people's consciousness fading on the worst nuclear accidents, like that of Three Mile Island in 1979 in the US and Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, 16 governments have presently got proposals to build 107 new civil reactors. They include the US, which has not built a new nuclear plant for over 30 years.
Their primary motive is to help satisfy their own industrial and service energy needs, in a world where fossil fuels are a finite resource with fluctuating prices and huge supply instability due to world economic and political turmoil.
The UK became a net energy importer two years ago, so UK big business now fears its vulnerability to the chaotic world energy market. This is especially so following Russia's gas dispute with the Ukraine which temporarily disrupted supply to the rest of Europe.
As well as the passage of time since Chernobyl, pro-nuclear government propaganda is helped considerably by people's concern over global warming, as nuclear energy produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than do fossil fuels.
The need to reduce the contribution to global warming played by fossil fuels is indisputable. Research is showing that it is also extremely urgent. For instance, a recent study reported that a record area of the Arctic Ocean failed to freeze during the winter just passed.
However, the government-initiated Sustainable Development Commission, that opposes new nuclear stations, has calculated that even if existing nuclear capacity is replaced and doubled, then the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would only be 8%. This is very low, considering that climate change scientists estimate a reduction of 80% is necessary!
But in any case, there is no level of emissions reduction that would justify new nuclear stations, because nuclear power - in its present form of nuclear fission - is a massive environmental hazard. The statistical chance of accidents may be small, but when they do occur, minor incidents can be very serious and major ones devastating to humans and the environment. The radiation from Chernobyl spread thousands of miles and has an effect spanning generations. As nuclear energy has been privatised in Britain, this increases the chances of accidents, as nuclear bosses will be tempted to cut corners to maximise their profits.
Then there is the huge problem of dangerous nuclear waste. This is transported and stored above ground at 34 locations in Britain at present and there is no known way of making it safe for the thousands of years it will remain highly reactive. There is also the possibility of terrorists attacking a nuclear installation or obtaining and using nuclear material. Nuclear substances have gone missing in many countries.
What is necessary, is not continued use of nuclear power, but the rapid development of safe, renewable energy sources, such as wind, waves and the sun. While these are being developed, there is also great scope for energy efficiency measures and new technologies such as carbon capture and storage technologies, if resources are applied to them.
Renewable energy production was once largely dismissed by the top capitalist scientists and politicians, but today is regarded as a contributing energy source. Even Blair's government intends to increase power generation from renewable sources to 20% of total energy used.
It is also true that much of the capitalist media is unsure on the nuclear option. Some commentators rightly point out that the true cost of nuclear power is deliberately masked and that there is increasing evidence that renewable sources are cheaper as well as much safer.
However, under capitalism, energy policy will never be developed to meet the needs of the majority of people in society and a sustainable environment, but will be primarily to satisfy the needs of big business and private profit.
Margaret Thatcher ran down the coal industry to counter the miners' power as a highly organised workforce, and today Blair makes decisions to satisfy his friends in the nuclear industry and the relatively short-term sights and interests of British capitalism as a whole.
Socialists have to demand the closing down of nuclear plants and a massive programme of investment into renewable energy resources and the safest ways of disposing of nuclear plant and waste.
We demand that no workers in the nuclear industry are made redundant or given new jobs on worse pay and conditions. There will be plenty of work needed on the decommissioning of plants and on alternative energy generation.
It is also essential that all the energy industries are taken into public ownership, so that an integrated energy programme can be created to provide cheap and safe energy for all. This needs to be part of a democratic and socialist plan of production that can satisfy the needs of everyone today, as well as safeguarding the planet for future generations.
Step up the Campaign for a New Workers' Party
THE STEERING committee elected at the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) conference in March discussed the campaign's next steps forward at its first meeting on 21 May. Representatives from trade unions and affiliated groups were also present including from PCS, TGWU, NUT and AMICUS unions.
CNWP chair and Coventry Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist outlined the political situation after the local elections. One of the main issues is the rise of the far right racist BNP who more than doubled their number of council seats.
The disillusionment around the elections and the fact that the BNP can masquerade as a party standing up for the working class, shows the urgent need for a genuine political alternative. The meeting agreed a statement on the BNP, which will be made available for supporters to read, distribute and use as the basis for leaflets.
Trade Union Liaison Officer Glenn Kelly spoke of the struggles against NHS cuts and closures and the anger as New Labour looks to sell off more and more of the health service. He highlighted the growing number of areas where workers face attacks on jobs and conditions, including the local government workers' battle in defence of their pensions.
CNWP fringe meetings are being held at all this year's major trade union conferences and there have already been reports of good responses from delegates. Many signed up in support of the declaration and wanted to get involved.
Given the potential shown by the RMT union's conference on the crisis in working-class representation in January and the level of support CNWP is gaining, the meeting agreed on the need for a follow-up conference. Officers will contact the RMT and other unions to propose that practical steps towards this are taken soon.
Hannah Sell, CNWP Assistant Secretary, said the 19 March conference agreed a target of 5,000 signatories to the declaration by the end of 2006 and it was agreed to step up the drive to achieve this. Targets for signatories by the end of the year were agreed for each trade union and each region.
Local launch meetings are taking place around the country. These provide a good opportunity to raise the campaign and bring together both existing and potential supporters to build momentum. All regions should look to hold such meetings as soon as possible.
Press Officer, Pete McLaren, distributed guidelines on media coverage that will be made available to supporters and local groups. National press releases should be followed up locally, adding relevant local information if possible. Letters are also a good way to get into the local media.
Fiona Pashazadeh, CNWP Treasurer, circulated proposals for raising funds for the campaign so the campaign's potential is not constrained by lack of money. The meeting agreed that local and affiliated groups and other supporting organisations should be charged for orders of any new publicity material produced, including the new general leaflet and posters that will soon be available.
CNWP will also be appealing for finance to existing signatories. A letter will be sent to those with public trade union positions inviting their branch to affiliate, if possible, or to send a branch or individual donation.
The full text of the resolutions will be distributed soon to local groups and be available on the website www.cnwp.org.uk
For more information, please contact email@example.com.
London: The political landscape after the local elections
FOLLOWING THE recent London local elections, PAULA MITCHELL examines the new political make-up of the capital and the prospects for working class political action over the burning issues of health, housing, transport and racism.
NEW LABOUR have been hammered in the council elections in London. The Tories have taken control of seven councils, while six have fallen to no overall control. The Tories now control 14 councils, Labour seven and the LibDems three. There are now eleven BNP councillors in Barking and Dagenham, and 15 Respect councillors, 12 in Tower Hamlets and three in Newham.
The Tory vote in London to a large extent is a 'return-to-the-fold' of voters who turned to Blair's New Labour temporarily. Most of the boroughs which have gone to the Tories this time have been Conservative more often than not for decades.
One exception to this is Hammersmith and Fulham, which has not been under Tory control since 1968 (when the majority of councils were Tory). It would appear that middle-class people and a small layer of workers may also have voted Tory because London, especially in terms of housing, transport and collapse of public services, is at the sharp end of New Labour's big business policies.
The Labour vote did not drop uniformly however. There is a big element of the vote which was simply against whoever was in power - in other words against big business policies. For example, in Islington, New Labour gained 12 councillors from the LibDems and the council went to no overall control; they took ten from the LibDems in Lambeth to take over the council.
In Richmond the Tories, despite making gains elsewhere, lost 16 councillors and control of the council to the LibDems. The Greens did very well in some parts of London, partly as an easy protest vote.
But significantly, the Socialist Party scored excellent results, getting Lewisham socialist councillors Ian Page and Chris Flood re-elected and a tremendous vote for Jess Leech, our third candidate in that ward.
We also achieved good results in our small campaigns in Walthamstow and Southwark, showing a definite increase in the number of people consciously wanting to vote socialist.
Big business policies
The election result which has generated most national comment has been the BNP winning eleven councillors in Barking and Dagenham. Sections of the press have even suggested that if the BNP had stood in every seat they would have taken control of the council. However, in one ward they only polled 106 votes, indicating that they probably picked their wards carefully.
But this result is no surprise. The BNP have achieved a similar level of votes for the last few years.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, scapegoated by the government, was right when she said that white workers feel that Labour isn't listening to them. But of course she and others of her type do nothing to fight New Labour's big business policies.
Barking and Dagenham is an area that has been blighted by big business policies. The workforce at Fords at Dagenham has been decimated, losing thousands of local jobs over the last few years. There is a housing crisis due to privatisation and no new build.
The NHS cuts in the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust are the worst in London at over 600 job losses. Of course, it is not just white workers affected by this, but working-class people from all backgrounds. But fears and resentment about asylum seekers and immigrants has been whipped up by the New Labour politicians and their friends in the media.
However predictable, the BNP's election is a dangerous development. They masquerade as a party for white workers, but in fact they offer no alternative to the cuts and privatisation of our services, or to job losses and low pay. Where they have had councillors in other towns, they have failed to even vote against cuts and council tax rises, never mind organise campaigns against them.
In fact, it is impossible for the BNP to mobilise effective campaigns on such issues because to do so requires the unity of working people against the privateers and profit-seekers, whereas the BNP is based on dividing working people against each other.
What is also dangerous is that the BNP whip up racism and their election could encourage a minority to carry out racist attacks and abuse. On a more optimistic note, their election will probably lead to increasing numbers of people, particularly young people, wanting to combat the BNP in that area and elsewhere. Campaigning against racism amongst young people will be an essential part of the Socialist Party's work.
It is also possible that a layer of trade unionists and community activists in that area will now start to look for a more effective method to combat the BNP. 12 years ago the BNP won their first councillor in London, who was then defeated by a community and trade union campaign, in which the Socialist Party's predecessor the Militant and Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) played a major part.
Then the BNP won a councillor in Dagenham two years ago. They were defeated again, but their vote did not go down. The main campaigns, conducted by a broad grouping called 'Barking and Dagenham Together' and by Unite Against Fascism, campaigned for a maximum Labour and "anti-racist" vote. The Liberals stood down on that occasion in favour of Labour.
We do not doubt the genuine anti-fascist and anti-racist views of those who participate in these campaigns and recognise that some of them have worked very hard. But we warned at the time that this approach would not be sufficient in future to keep the BNP from winning further seats in some parts of London.
It is vital that an alternative is built that fights in the interests of working-class people and which brings together workers from different communities, with campaigners, trade unionists, socialists and radical environmentalists.
Socialist Party members will be stepping up our campaigning in Barking and Dagenham for a new mass workers' party.
The defeat of New Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets by Respect is to be welcomed. But the perception of Respect as a party for Muslims, and the danger of divisions developing between different communities, will not be lessened by the fact that all their elected councillors are from a Muslim background and in Muslim areas.
Respect councillors, as the largest opposition group in Tower Hamlets, will now be severely tested.
The Socialist Party has a proud record of councillors posing a socialist alternative, in Lewisham and Coventry.
We have the experience of Liverpool city council in the 1980s, which, led by supporters of the Socialist Party's predecessor, Militant, built thousands of council houses, provided jobs on decent pay, built new schools, parks and leisure centres, and led a mass community and trade union campaign to force extra money from the Thatcher government.
In Tower Hamlets, our Socialist Party members are writing to the Respect councillors to propose discussions on how to pose a working-class, anti-cuts, anti-privatisation alternative in Tower Hamlets.
Some Respect councillors have a good record of campaigning and we hope to be able to work with them. These elections have given us a snapshot of developments in London. The reality is that large numbers of working-class and middle-class people in are increasingly disillusioned in all the main parties, and it is no surprise.
Northern Ireland: Unite against sectarianism
A FIFTEEN year old Catholic school student, Michael McIlveen, was brutally assaulted in a sectarian attack in Ballymena, County Antrim on 7 May. He made it home but then collapsed and was taken to hospital where he died two days later.
Ciaran Mulholland, Belfast
Ballymena is largely Protestant with a 20% Catholic minority. In recent years there has been a sharp increase in sectarian polarisation in the town with frequent assaults and confrontations between groups of Catholic and Protestant young people wielding hurling sticks and baseball bats.
Several years ago there was a prolonged sectarian protest outside a Catholic church in the Harryville area of the town. Given the level of violence it was clear that someone would be killed sooner or later.
Michael's family took a clear anti-sectarian stance after his death calling for no retaliation and condemning all sectarian attacks. When Michael's body arrived at his home the family played an anti-sectarian song, "There Were Roses", to the crowd outside. At his funeral his coffin was carried by young people wearing both Glasgow Celtic and Rangers football tops.
Whilst there are fewer sectarian murders today than was the case a few years ago, Michael's murder is a stark reminder of just how divided Northern Ireland is at present.
All the mainstream political parties condemned Michael's murder, but did so in a one-sided way. These parties of course base themselves on sectarian division and are part of the problem not the solution.
Socialist Youth, the Socialist Party's youth wing, intervened in Ballymena in the days following the murder, putting forward a programme to counter all sectarian attacks.
The Socialist Youth leaflet argued "the best response to Michael's killing would be a united mass mobilisation of people from the working-class communities across Ballymena and from young people from all the schools in the area, saying 'Enough is enough-all sectarian attacks must end now' ".
Fifteen members leafleted outside all the schools, held stalls outside both the town shopping centres on the Saturday following Michael's death and organised a meeting open to all school students two days after Michael's funeral.
The response has been positive. A number of young people have come forward and Socialist Youth hopes to form a branch in the town in the coming weeks.
The struggle against sectarian attacks and for a better life for young working-class people doesn't end with Michael's funeral. The best way to mark his short life is to build a united movement of young people in Ballymena that can challenge sectarianism in all its forms.
Bobby Sands Nothing but an Unfinished Song
Twenty five years ago in May, Bobby Sands, MP, died on hunger strike in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Over the next few months, nine other young republican prisoners followed him, demanding jail reforms.
Niall Mulholland reviews Bobby Sands Nothing but an Unfinished Song by Denis O'Hearn (Pluto Books).
The 1981 hunger strikes provoked enormous sympathy from Catholics towards the prisoners and huge anger towards the vindictive, intransigent Thatcher government. Deep alienation amongst Catholics prepared the way for the rise of Sinn Fein, which today is the largest nationalist party in the North.
For my generation of Catholic youth, 1981 was an intense, radicalising year. Today, the hunger strikes are still a highly-charged subject and Bobby Sands is an iconic symbol of ultimate resistance to extreme prison repression. By a distressing twist of history, the 25th anniversary coincided with a desperate hunger and thirst strike by Afghan refugees in Dublin.
This book is a well-paced, often harrowing, read that captures the horrors of prison life and the charismatic Bobby Sands - who, by the time of his death, at 27, was a talented writer, propagandist, poet and song-writer.
Sands was brought up in a mixed Catholic and Protestant council estate near Belfast and played football with Protestant friends. However, the start of the Troubles led to increased sectarian tensions, and the Sands family were forced to flee their home, moving to West Belfast.
As the Troubles worsened, Sands joined the local Provisional IRA, to hit back against state repression. Like many working-class youth, Sands was let down by the leaders of the labour and trade union movement, who failed to take a lead in the civil rights struggle, allowing right-wing nationalists and unionists to dominate 'politics'. O'Hearn says Sands was "enthusiastic but militaristic". After a few minor local IRA actions, Sands was arrested, convicted, in 1972, and sent to Long Kesh prison camp, on the outskirts of Belfast.
Jail transformed Sands into a "radical student". While the Provos' "conservative leaders" of Cage 18 held "burnings of Marxist books and pornographic magazines", Sands and other young prisoners "...were reading and talking about the Communist Manifesto, Trotsky, Animal Farm, Frantz Fanon...everything." Sands studied struggles of the oppressed worldwide. His heroes were Che Guevara, and Liam Mellowes, the 1920s left-wing IRA leader.
Sands also learnt to speak and write fluently in the Irish language, which he then taught to other prisoners (partly so they could communicate without the prison warders understanding).
Sands argued that armed struggle was not enough and called for "grass roots" politics in local communities. On his release, in April 1976, he tried to put this into practise. According to a fellow republican, "Bobby's attitude was different from other IRA men. He believed strongly in socialist revolution and political mobilisation".
But whatever Sands' intentions, democratic self-organisation and resistance by a united working class, in a modern, urban society, was incompatible with the IRA's secretive organisation and individual terror methods. The campaign of bombs and bullets could never defeat the might of the British state - in fact, it provided excuses for the state to increase repressive powers - and only deepened sectarian divisions amongst workers.
It was also counter-productive to developing mass, class struggles. This was brought home by a terrible incident, when an IRA volunteer friend of Sands was shot dead by the army while driving a car in West Belfast. The car went out of control, killing three children. This sparked the 'Peace People' mass movement, which temporarily put the republican movement on the back-foot.
After a failed IRA robbery, Sands was once again imprisoned. Under a Labour government, the state cracked down on jails, to try to break the morale of prisoners. The right to wear their own clothes, and other concessions, were withdrawn from those convicted of offences arising out of the Troubles committed after 1 March 1976.
Republican prisoners responded by refusing to wear prison uniforms and were left naked in their cells with only a blanket. The protest escalated under a brutal prison regime. In March 1978, the 'no-wash' protest began. Prisoners lived in intolerable cell conditions - the walls smeared with their own excreta - and were subject to constant humiliating body searches, beatings and torture.
Despite the inhumane prison conditions, Sands developed as a writer and organiser. His optimism and determination spread infectiously to other prisoners.
Although there was considerable sympathy among Catholics for the prisoners' plight, the IRA's campaign stunted an effective support campaign. Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) took up the issue of the H Blocks within the labour movement and the working class, in Ireland and Britain.
Militant called for an end to oppression in the prisons, for the right of all prisoners to wear their own clothes and to have a choice of work or study. Militant also called for a labour movement review of the cases of all those convicted of offences arising from the Troubles to determine who was a political prisoner.
This position found a good response among both Catholic and Protestant workers. A resolution moved on the British Labour Party NEC, by the Young Socialist representative and Militant supporter, Tony Saunois, committed Labour to this position. But the trade union leaders in Northern Ireland did not campaign on the issue of prisons. The result was a sharp rise in sectarian polarisation
After several years, the Maze protests had not won prisoner rights. The increasingly desperate inmates organised a hunger strike. In October 1980, seven prisoners refused food. In return for vague promises from the government, they called it off in December. Characteristically, Margaret Thatcher refused to move and the prisoners were left angry and demoralised.
But Thatcher vastly underestimated the prisoners' desperation and determination. Sands, now the IRA's OC (officer commanding) in the Maze, led another hunger strike from 1 March 1981, although the republican leadership again opposed it.
His courageous and defiant stand inspired the Catholic community and the H-Block protests drew mass support across the North. When the independent nationalist MP for Fermanagh/ South Tyrone died suddenly, Sands was nominated to fight the seat. His victory, with over 30,000 votes, registered the deep sympathy and support amongst Catholics.
O'Hearn's book covers the last weeks of Sands' life in harrowing detail. His sense of smell grew as he became feeble; prison warders taunted him with ever-larger portions of food; Sands' body organs failed until his bowels burst, leaving him in terrible agony.
After 66 days starvation, Sands died on 5 May. Over 100,000 attended his funeral and Northern Ireland was convulsed by heavy rioting and brutal state repression. His death had a big international impact: "motions of sympathy, minutes of silence, and days of mourning were declared in national parliaments of Italy, India, Portugal, Iran and elsewhere..."
After Sands, nine other prisoners died (six IRA members and three INLA) : Francis Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine.
Without a prospect of prison reforms, families of the remaining hunger strikers intervened to end the fasts in October. No concessions were given but the Thatcher government had only won a Pyrrhic victory.
The hunger strikes restored the morale of the republican movement. There was no mass influx of youth to the Provisionals but enough recruits for a long campaign. Most importantly, Thatcher's refusal to budge deeply alienated Catholics and prepared for the political rise of Sinn Fein. Later, prison reforms were introduced quietly.
Some commentators criticised O'Hearn's book for its perceived pro-Gerry Adams leadership position. Another author, Richard O'Rawe, the IRA public relations officer in 1981, sparked controversy amongst republicans with the recent publication of his book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike (New Island Books, 2005).
O'Rawe said a deal was offered by the British government, in July 1981, which addressed most of the prisoners' demands for political status. O'Rawe claims the IRA Army Council effectively prevented the prisoners from accepting the deal to ensure republicans kept the sympathy of Catholics and won a Westminster seat.
However, Brendan "Bik" McFarlane, the IRA commander in the Maze during the hunger strikes, completely refutes O'Rawe's claims.
Whatever the truth, this very public row reflects growing unease and opposition by republicans to the Adams leadership, including those opposed to the leadership's continuing shift to the right.
For socialists, the way forward in Northern Ireland lies in developing a powerful, united working-class movement that opposes sectarianism, injustice and capitalism, and which fights for a socialist solution - the ideal which Bobby Sands and many young working-class republicans believed they fought for.
Postal workers call for action
POSTAL WORKERS have delivered a thumping rejection to Royal Mail's plans to impose a 2.9% pay offer and to implement backdoor privatisation of the Post Office. The result of the consultative ballot by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) was announced at its annual conference. It showed that over 98% of CWU members who responded supported the union's position of keeping Royal Mail a publicly owned and run company. Ken Smith reports.
The ballot also showed postal workers are opp-osed to the 40,000 plus job losses that Royal Mail are considering as part of their reorganisation of postal services. In a 60% turnout - with over 90,000 members backing the union - the membership also effectively committed itself to fighting Royal Mail's recently imposed 2.9% pay deal.
The union has now given Royal Mail management - in particular Alan Leighton and Alan Crozier - four weeks to reopen negotiations on this year's pay deal and other related issues or the union will begin a ballot on industrial action.
Even before the ballot result was announced, Royal Mail bosses were trying to conduct a negative spin operation about the results. They claimed it was unrepresentative and that they would get an independent auditor to try and scrutinise the union's ballot.
In response, CWU general secretary, Billy Hayes, said it was Alan Leighton who had carried out an illegal ballot - referring to Alan Leighton's claims that, in a poll, 80,000 postal workers had expressed an interest in the Royal Mail share scheme.
Also anticipating Royal Mail's attacks, the union conducted a telephone poll of 1,000 of its members and 68% said that they were very angry at the imposition of the pay deal.
Gary Clarke, CWU Scotland Number 2 and a member of the CWI in Scotland, said this is "the most crucial time for postal workers since I've been on the job. After three years of a constant onslaught by management there is huge resentment among CWU members against the bosses. The mood is definitely there to show the bosses that they will go this far and no further."
Other delegates warned the union leaders not to repeat the mistakes of three years ago when they thought they had a 'yes' vote for action in the bag. One delegate warned that this could be a defining conflict of trade unionism in the 21st century so far.
There is real anger among CWU postal members that is definitely there to be tapped into. Postal union leaders say they are willing to negotiate but they feel that Alan Leighton and Royal Mail management want to provoke this conflict. CWU members, however, are demanding that their leadership stands firm and actually delivers on promises to push Royal Mail management back on this issue. See also page 5.
Socialist Party members should visit postal sorting offices and depots immediately and make contact with postal counter staff who are also likely to be balloting for industrial action on the separate issue of job cuts.
NATFHE demand pay justice
NATFHE MEETS this weekend for its final conference. This follows the decision of members of both NATFHE and the AUT to merge into what will be the largest post-school education union in the world - UCU the University and College Union. We all welcome the merger, but size alone will not guarantee victory for our members in key battles with the employers and government.
Andrew Price (NATFHE NEC member Further Education Wales)
Whichever sector we are in, all minds are on the current dispute in the university sector over pay. There has been a clear attempt by the media, the employers and New Labour to misrepresent this dispute.
The relative pay position of all university lecturers has declined enormously. The union side has submitted a claim for 23.9% over three years. The employers' offer of 12% over the same period was rightly rejected by the union side. It is the union side that should decide when an offer is put to members, not the employers or Alan Johnson, the New Labour secretary of state for education.
Some of the industrial hooliganism we have had to put up with for years in Further Education is now coming to the university sector.
In the University of Northumbria, where our members are operating the exam boycott, the employers have responded by withholding pay completely.
On the 80th anniversary of the British General Strike, few would have predicted that the lockout originating in the coal mines would be deployed in a university!
To their great credit, our Northumbrian members have voted in a ballot for indefinite strike action. They must not stand alone. Conference must decide to pay them the maximum possible amount in strike pay and, as soon as possible, all the university sector must be brought out in indefinite action.
On the fringe, plans will be laid for the founding conference on 24 June of the proposed new left organisation in UCU - a conference that has the potential to build big support for a left programme.
Elsewhere on the fringe there will be a meeting of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. The creation of such a party is long overdue for all who work in post-school education where the system of free market capitalism, beloved of both the Tories and New Labour, has done so much damage not just to our pay and conditions but to the service we offer our communities.
Brazil: 'War' erupts in São Paulo
Eyewitness report from a city in shock
A WEEK-LONG wave of violence between police and a notorious criminal gang in São Paulo, Brazil, has left over 170 people dead. As TONY SAUNOIS reports from a shocked city this 'war' is rooted in the country's corrupt and brutal criminal justice system and the extreme divisions of wealth and poverty.
"A DAY in Baghdad" was how many journalists and commentators in Brazil described Sunday 14 May. Throughout the state of S‹o Paulo Sunday was the culmination of three days of unprecedented violent attacks and killings.
Machine guns, hand grenades and other heavy weapons have been used by those involved. In a co-ordinated series of attacks, carried out with military precision, 153 assaults have taken place on police stations and eight banks. Around 150 buses have been burnt-out prompting the bus companies to withdraw hundreds more buses from service causing chaos for an estimated 3 million workers in the city and state of São Paulo.
By Monday evening, thousands were stranded at bus terminals and bus shelters with no idea of how to get home. One of the city airports has now been closed because of a bomb threat.
The outbreak of violence has been unleashed by one of the most notorious organised crime groups in São Paulo - the Primero Comando da Capital (PCC - First Command of the Capital).
At the same time these attacks took place, up to 80 co-ordinated uprisings were underway in a series of prisons and detention centres. Hostages have been taken in the prisons. Little short of a war is taking place between the PCC and the brutalised, corrupt Military Police.
On Monday morning in São Paulo, helicopters, many of them police ones, constantly flew over the city hovering like giant flies over prisons and detention centres. Most workers and young people have been shocked at the scale and degree of the violence. It has provoked widespread fear amongst the population. The normally packed streets and highways were totally deserted by 10pm on Monday night.
Members of Socialismo Revolucionario (the CWI in Brazil) driving through the city centre after a meeting were almost alone in the city centre passing heavily armed Military Police units and those with no homes to go to who as usual slept under the flyovers of city centre motorways. It was almost like driving through a deserted city.
Although most of the attacks have been concentrated on Military Police units, workers and students alike, are afraid of being caught in the cross-fire. One of the attacks on a police station took place in Taboão near the offices of APEOESP, the teacher's trade union.
In some schools; students, parents and teachers have been afraid because of the presence of police cars, which could attract attacks by the PCC. In response to these threats, APEOESP, led by members of Socialismo Revolucionario, have urged teachers and students to leave the schools while the threats continue. A mass meeting of teachers has been called by APEOESP to discuss these threats and how to confront them. Some schools and universities have been suspended. APEOESP was amongst the first workers' organisation to respond to this crisis.
Show of strength
The attacks by the PCC are a show of strength in response to the decision of the state to move imprisoned members of the PCC, including some of its leaders, to the maximum security prison of Presidente Venceslau (named the "Parque de los Monstros" - the Monster Park - by the PCC).
Brazilian prisons are notoriously brutal. Life inside for the 60,000 prisoners in the state of Sao Paulo is a modern version of Dante's seven circles of hell. Once inside prisoners are just left to rot. They are ruled by criminal gangs who are in a power struggle for control over them. Beheadings of rival gang members make up the punishment dished out to opponents.
The PCC is one of the most powerful of the organised gangs in São Paulo and is involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping and other criminal activity. Such gangs exist in Rio de Janeiro and other cities.
The PCC is organised along the lines of a military, guerrilla organisation with its own central chain of command, central committee and even its own constitution.
In some of the favelas (shanty towns) where it operates it acts almost as a "police force" stopping criminal activity against the local population but ensuring that it controls the drug market there and in other areas.
Amongst a layer of the youth in the poorest areas on the periphery of the city it is even seen as a semi-radical alternative to the state.
The PCC was formed inside the prisons in the early 1990s and some of their rhetoric and symbols were picked up from left-wing political prisoners and members of guerrilla organisations in the prisons at the time. Some PCC members even use the symbol of Che Guevara.
Yet the PCC has nothing to do with the ideas and methods of the socialist left or the symbol that Che Guevara represents for workers and young people in Latin America. The very fact that it has captured some support is because of the vacuum left by the failure of the leaders of the workers' organisations to offer an alternative and the carrying through of neo-liberal policies by Brazil's president Lula of the Workers' Party (PT).
The challenge for the new party P-SOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty - the new broad socialist party that Socialismo Revolucionario, CWI in Brazil, is helping to build in Brazil) is now to build a genuine socialist alternative.
Some capitalist commentators and right-wing capitalist politicians are using this crisis to try and smear the socialist left and link it to such groups as the PCC. They are also using this crisis as a reason to demand more repressive measures.
The growth and strength of such criminal organisations is a reflection of the desperate situation facing the most downtrodden and poorest sections of the population and the impasse in Brazil as a result Lula's policies.
In São Paulo over one million people are condemned to inhabit over 2,000 favelas in the most miserable of conditions. A further one million manage to survive in broken-down flats and houses inhabited by five and sometimes ten or more families. Here violence, drugs and despair are a part of daily life which organisations like the PCC can feed on.
The attacks by the PCC are certain to provoke a brutal response by the corrupt repressive Military Police who are preparing a massive repressive clamp down which will undoubtedly involve shooting and killing of innocent youth. Sao Paulo Military Police shoot first and ask questions afterwards.
The life depicted in the film City of God is never far from the reality facing millions in Sao Paulo. In 2000, one person every nine hours was shot dead by the police - an average of three per day. A detailed analysis of those killed shows that 60% had no criminal record.
The figures for 1999 reveal that 51% of the victims were shot in the back and more than 21% had more than five bullets in them! The overwhelming majority are black. Nothing suggests anything has changed since Lula came to power in 2002.
This crisis is certain to have political repercussions in the run up to the Presidential elections in October.
The São Paulo state Governor, Geraldo Alckmin of the capitalist PSDB (Party of Social Democracy, Brazil) is standing against Lula. Although he has stepped down to fight the Presidential election, his deputy Claudio Lembo from the Liberal Front Party (PFL) is filling in, Alckmin is certain to be tainted with this crisis and how it develops.
At the same time it appears that these attacks are being used to try and intimidate the workers' movement. The secretary of National Security claims to have tapes of telephone conversations by PCC leaders saying that they would attack public demonstrations.
These, he says, show that the PCC aim to attack activities of the PSDB in such a way that the PT (Workers Party) would be blamed with the aim of provoking greater political instability. They also, however, claim that other demonstrations, including those by workers demanding wage increases, would be subject to attack.
It is unclear if these recordings actually exist or are just being used by the state government as propaganda and as a means of trying to intimidate the workers' movement.
However, these threats, whatever there origins, clearly illustrate the need for the workers' movement, especially P-SOL and the trade union rank and file to take an independent stand in this crisis and not allow workers and their families to be intimidated by either the PCC or the state forces.
Members of SR are arguing for P-SOL to take the initiative and organise a meeting and campaign against the violence and against police repression. The workers' organisations need to take the necessary steps to organise the defence of workers and students. Workers' demonstrations must be protected by stewards.
These steps need to be part of a campaign for P-SOL that includes a campaign for a democratically controlled police force that is run by and accountable to the local community and the demilitarisation of the Military Police. At the same time it is necessary to fight for a socialist programme that can put an end to the horrific social conditions that allow organisations like the PCC to develop.
This crisis shows the need for P-SOL to build mass support for an independent socialist alternative that can offer a way out of the horrific social conditions that are the breeding ground for organised criminal groups.
Appeal for solidarity with Venezuelan workers
"The Executive Committee of the trade union Suprofard, which organises the pharmaceutical workers in Caracas, Venezuela denounces the company RACE C.A for its refusal to recognise our trade union.
We are the legitimate representatives of the workers on the shopfloor and the way in which management is behaving means that the workers we represent are being denied their most elementary rights.
The right of workers to organise in trade unions and to be represented by the trade union of their choice is fundamental and established in the Venezuelan Labour code and in the Venezuelan Constitution.
Our trade union Suprofard has been legally registered and can count on the support of the majority of the workers in this workplace.
Company management refuses to recognise the trade union and refuses to start collective wage negotiations or to respond in any way or form to the demands of the workers. What management has done is to put pressure, intimidate and even physically threaten workers who are supporting the trade union Suprofard.
The management of RACE have started to organise a 'yellow' [scab] trade union named Unitrace. This trade union is led by the lawyer Debora Espinoza who quite conveniently for the management of RACE is also the labour inspector for the capital district of Caracas.
We are also denouncing the way in which the company has forced workers to sign a monstrosity of a contract.
Our trade union Suprofard will, after consultation with the membership and in accordance with the Labour code of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela take industrial action to secure the rights of the workforce.
We are calling on all trade union organisations, national and international, to send letters of protest to the Ministry of Labour: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Please send copies of your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
We are also asking for financial support for the strike fund of the Suprofard trade union."